A Comprehensive Guide to Tackling in Rugby: A Primer for New Fans

Rugby is a sport celebrated for its physicality, and tackling is one of its most defining features. For newcomers to the game, understanding the intricacies of tackling is essential to appreciate the sport fully. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into everything a new rugby fan needs to know about tackling, including what it is, techniques, the laws governing tackles, and the importance of this fundamental aspect of the game.

What is Tackling in Rugby?

Tackling in rugby is the act of stopping an opponent with the ball by making physical contact, usually by grasping and bringing them to the ground. It is a fundamental skill that plays a central role in both attack and defense, making it a crucial element of the game.

Tackling Techniques

Tackling in rugby requires a combination of strength, technique, and strategy. Here are the key techniques and principles involved in effective tackling:

  1. Body Position: A successful tackle begins with the correct body position. Players should get low, bend at the knees, and maintain a low center of gravity. This helps in generating power and balance during the tackle.
  2. Target Selection: Players should aim to tackle the opponent’s midsection or waist area. This provides the best chance of securely wrapping up the ball carrier and driving them to the ground.
  3. Head Placement: The head should be positioned to the side of the opponent, not in front of them, to avoid injury. A cheek-to-cheek approach, where your cheek touches the opponent’s hip, is a safer option.
  4. Wrap and Squeeze: Upon making contact, the tackler should use their arms to wrap around the opponent’s waist, thighs, or hips. The aim is to secure a grip and prevent the ball carrier from offloading the ball. Squeezing the legs together can also limit the opponent’s movement.
  5. Leg Drive: Once the initial contact is made, leg drive is crucial. The tackler should drive their legs and pump them forcefully to propel the opponent backward or to the ground.
  6. Lift and Drive: In some situations, especially in a two-man tackle, the second tackler might aim to lift the ball carrier’s legs, disrupting their balance and making it easier to drive them backward.
  7. Shoulder Placement: The shoulder of the tackler should make contact with the opponent’s body, providing a strong point of leverage. The shoulder should be below the armpit level to prevent a high tackle, which can result in penalties and potential injuries.
  8. Timing: Timing is essential. The tackler must choose the right moment to engage the opponent, avoiding an early or late tackle. Proper timing can disrupt the opponent’s movement and provide a higher chance of success.

High Tackles and Dangerous Play

In rugby, the laws governing tackles are stringent to ensure the safety of the players. High tackles and dangerous play are strictly penalized. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. High Tackles: Tackling above the line of the shoulders is considered a high tackle and is illegal. High tackles can result in penalties or even yellow or red cards, depending on the severity and intent.
  2. No Dangerous Play: Certain dangerous actions are prohibited, such as spear tackles (driving an opponent headfirst into the ground), tip tackles (lifting an opponent and dropping them on their head or neck), and leading with the head or making contact with the opponent’s head.
  3. Duty of Care: Players have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their opponents. Tacklers must be mindful of their actions to avoid causing injury.

Defensive Strategies and Systems

Tackling is not just an individual effort but also a collective one. Teams employ various defensive strategies and systems to work together effectively. Some common defensive strategies include:

  1. Line Speed: This strategy involves the defensive line moving up quickly to put pressure on the attacking team, limiting their time and options.
  2. Rush Defense: The rush defense is an aggressive approach where the defensive line pushes up together, closing down space and forcing the opposition to make quick decisions.
  3. Blitz Defense: The blitz defense is an even more aggressive approach, often used to disrupt the attacking team by sending defenders through the line at pace.
  4. Cover Defense: The cover defense involves players on the inside providing support and covering for their teammates in case the initial tackle is missed.

The Importance of Tackling in Rugby

Tackling is not just about stopping the opponent; it’s a strategic element that can change the course of a game. Here’s why tackling is so crucial in rugby:

  1. Possession and Turnovers: Tackling is a primary method of winning back possession. A well-executed tackle can lead to turnovers, giving the defending team an opportunity to attack.
  2. Field Position: Effective tackling can force the attacking team backward, limiting their progress up the field. This can lead to better field position for the defending team.
  3. Defensive Pressure: Tackling puts immense pressure on the attacking team, disrupting their offensive plans and causing errors or turnovers.
  4. Momentum Shifts: A powerful tackle can provide an emotional boost to the defending team and its fans, creating momentum and energy in the game.
  5. Safety: Effective tackling techniques prioritize player safety. By tackling correctly, players reduce the risk of injury to themselves and their opponents.

Drills and Training

Tackling skills are honed through drills and training. For those new to rugby, here are a few essential tackling drills:

  1. Tackle Bag Drills: Players practice tackling a padded bag that simulates an opponent. This drill helps improve technique and body positioning.
  2. Live Tackling Drills: These involve live, full-contact tackling in controlled situations, allowing players to practice tackling real opponents in a safe environment.
  3. Reaction and Evasion Drills: These drills enhance players’ ability to react to different situations and opponents, improving their tackling decisions and timing.
  4. Two-on-One Tackling Drills: These drills focus on teamwork in tackling, ensuring players can effectively tackle in pairs, especially when facing an opponent with the ball.
  5. Tracking and Angle Drills: These drills help players learn how to track opponents and take the right angles for successful tackles.


Tackling is a fundamental and exhilarating aspect of rugby that demands physicality, technique, and strategic awareness. It plays a pivotal role in both attack and defense, making it a critical skill for every player on the field. As you delve deeper into the world of rugby, understanding the intricacies of tackling, the techniques involved, and the importance of player safety in this aspect of the game will deepen your appreciation of the sport. So, the next time you watch a rugby match, keep an eye on the tackles – they are where the game’s intensity and strategy converge.

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